The Zombie Boundary Review Staggers On

The Zombie Boundary Review Staggers On

The Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland and Wales published their revised proposals for new parliamentary constituencies on 17 October, sending MPs and commentators to the maps and calculators. The initial proposals made earlier in the year were materially altered in more than half the proposed constituencies, as the Commissions tried to reflect the results of the open consultation exercise they had carried out over the spring and summer. Regrettably, the Commissions have also tinkered with and usually lengthened many constituency names. By far the biggest casualty of the boundary review would be Boris Johnson in Uxbridge & South Ruislip (Hillingdon & Uxbridge under the new proposals). London’s decisive pro-Labour swing since 2010 has made it marginal already, and under the new boundaries Labour could well have been ahead in 2017. David Davis’s stronghold of Haltemprice & Howden is abolished entirely, part joining a Labour marginal in Hull and part paired with his colleague Andrew Percy’s seat. The third Brexiteer, Liam Fox, need not worry as his North Somerset seat is unchanged. The changes in Cumbria are probably enough to deprive former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron of his Westmorland & Lonsdale seat, and John Woodcock’s mind-boggling win in Barrow & Furness would be reversed (as would in all probability the results in Labour’s two most ambitious gains of 2017, Canterbury and Kensington). The revised map is by and large an improvement on the initial map in terms of matching up with how people think about local community ties, but the maximum 5 per cent variation either side of the average constituency electorate (and the English Commission’s policy of using wards as building blocks if at all possible) means that improving boundaries in one locality will tend to worsen them in another locality, and there is no agreed standard to optimise the overall proposals. Barring a change in the law, the boundary review will trundle along according to the timetable set out in the 2011 Act. The Boundary Commissions are creatures of statute, and do not take orders from the government. There will be a further consultation period over the next few weeks and then the absolutely final recommendations for 600 new constituencies. The implementation order must be laid before Parliament in autumn 2018. Whether MPs will vote for it is doubtful, but for now this zombie review staggers onwards. The boundary review in Northern Ireland is the most important factor, should the government let the process continue. The DUP hated the initial proposals for the province, which reduced the number of MPs from 18 to 17 and redrew the boundaries along a pattern that was strikingly good for Sinn Fein. Unless the Northern Ireland boundary commission comes back with...

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Seasons of scandal

Seasons of scandal

Westminster’s sexual harassment scandal is the fourth systemic crisis in recent decades – after Poulson, cash for questions and expenses.

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How (not) to time a General Election (2017 edition)

This article first appeared in Conservative Home on 11 August 2017 Harold Wilson once described the Prime Minister’s power to call a general election as being the loneliest decision in politics. Having called three – one that went brilliantly, one that went OK and one that backfired – he has more experience in this than any Prime Minister except Lord Salisbury. David Cameron, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain are in a rare club of Prime Ministers who did not have to make any decisions about election timing. Cameron was locked in to a five-year term under the coalition agreement and the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. Perhaps his relaxed style of leadership in 2010-15 owed something to the absence of the constant existential stress of thinking about election timing, although timing the referendum overshadowed his second government. Theresa May having discarded the comforting straitjacket of fixed terms, joined a long line of Prime Ministers who have faced this solitary dilemma, and a somewhat smaller group to have been damaged by their choice. We can break the elections since 1918 down into four slightly fuzzy categories – the ones that Prime Ministers can regard as complete successes, the ones over which Prime Ministers had limited or no choice, the debatable ones (including counterfactual elections like those of October 1978 or November 2007) and the ones that go completely wrong. Elections that go according to plan: 1922, 1931, 1935, 1955, 1959, 1966, 1983, 1987, 2001, 2005 In ten elections the incumbent party was re-elected with its authority enhanced and with at the very least a comfortable majority. Four Prime Ministers can therefore claim to have an unblemished record in choosing election dates; Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair both had two election calls and in each case won three-figure majorities.   Forced elections: 1918, 1929, 1945, 1950, 1964, 1997, 2010, 2015 Seven elections were forced on Prime Ministers at or approaching the end of the Parliament’s term. Two – 1918 and 1945 – were overdue. In 1945 the Prime Minister did not have the choice as his Labour partners would not extend the coalition and prolong the Parliament any further after VE Day. The elections of 1964 and 1997 came at the very end of five-year terms in which unpopular governments had lacked opportunities to call earlier elections. There was perfunctory discussion of a spring election in 1964, but it was not a serious prospect. The Tories had a good summer and lost only very narrowly in October– Alec Douglas Home’s timing was as good as anyone could have demanded. The election of February 1950 is more uncertain because it would have been possible for Attlee to have gone on until summer 1950....

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